Monday, June 18, 2007

Free Second Life - Days 3 and 4

Ok, after a couple of days acquiring freebies, I decided to try to go earn some Lindens. I might not look like a complete newbie anymore, but I doubt I could make much money as a dancer or an escort. I don't think I want to be a dancer or escort anyway. I don't think there's anything wrong with making money that way, it's just not for me. I'm no good at flirting either, so I don't think I'd make a good dancer or escort anyway.

I can't make any good clothes or other objects to sell yet. You need Lindens to upload the textures, and I don't have any Lindens.

That basically leaves me with one option. Camping. I have to go camping. Crap. I have always hated camping. They hog sim resources, filling up the sim with people doing nothing but sitting. They drive traffic numbers up for malls that may or may not have good quality items for sale. And they don't really pay very much. Honestly, I would really rather save my time, buy a few Lindens on the Lindex, and go do something fun or productive. But . . . that's not the point of this experiment. I want to experience Second Life for free. And for now, at least, that means camping.

Ok, where to go camping. The best way to find camping places is probably to go to the search menu and click on the Popular Places tab. Find one you like and teleport there. I'm not going to tell you which one I went to, because they're all pretty much the same, and I'm not going to advertise for them :) . Once you find a place to camp, look for a pose ball that says "camp". Some places also disguise they're camping as window washing or street sweeping or something like that. Anyway, if it's a pose ball, just right click on it and sit. Most of them will pay you between 2 and 4 Lindens for every 10 minutes you sit there. It doesn't pay as you sit there. It keeps track of how long you've been sitting, and pays you once you stand up. Most of them will also kick you out of the chair if you go into idle. There are supposed to be some anti-idling tools out there, but I haven't found one yet. The more sophisticated camping chairs pop up a window that you have to click on every ten minutes. If you don't click on it, it kicks you out of the chair. This is to prevent someone from camping their avatar while they're not at the computer. I don't know anyway to defeat this.

You also may see some kiosks in some of these camping places that offer Lindens in exchange for taking a survey. I was fearful that these were some kind of scam, but I thought it would be a good idea to try one and write about it here. After trying one, I wouldn't call it a scam, but it's close. It takes you to a website where you can take surveys. These surveys are very clever, and seem mainly geared towards getting your e-mail address in to a bunch of mailing lists. Other surveys are more blatantly about selling you something in return for Lindens. I didn't try these, as that would have broken the rules for this project. I did get paid 91L for one of the surveys I did take, and promptly started getting spam on the e-mail account I used. Luckily, it's one I don't use regularly. I would strongly suggest not getting Lindens using these surveys. Some of them may be legit, but you're almost certain to get more spam. To me, it's not worth it.

After a couple of days of not doing anything other than camp while in Second Life, I had accumulated a whopping 237L. Not exactly a fortune, but everone has to start somewhere. Luckily for me, being homeless in Second Life is no big deal and you don't need to eat.

Tomorrow, I'll go shopping for some cheap stuff and talk about filling out your profile.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Free Second Life - Day 2

Ok, I said I would include a more complete description of how I changed my shape from the newbie shape. Here's what I looked like when I first showed up on Orientation Island.

By the way, I did not take this picture from Orientation Island. I forgot to do that there, and took this one later. But it's exactly how I looked at the very beginning. I have NEWBIE written all over me.

The first thing I did I talked about yesterday. I went freebie shopping. Again, I got most of my free clothes, shoes, and even a few skins, at Free Dove. After trying on a few things, I ended up looking like this.

I didn't like any of the hair I found at Free Dove, but I found this hair with a beanie attached in my Library under the Nightclub Female outfit folder. Not great, but better. Next I wanted to personalize my shape. The shapes you get when you first start aren't bad, but everyone has them in their inventory. If you go around wearing one of these shapes, everyone will know you're new. That can be a good thing if you're needing help. I did have a couple of very nice people offer to help me when I looked like this, so if you really are a newbie, it might be a good idea to spend a day or two looking like a newbie. On the other hand, there are a few less scrupulous people out there who might just be looking for newbies to harass. I didn't encounter this, but like everything in life, be careful.

Ok, modifying your shape. First, right-click somewhere on your avatar. If you are wearing an attachment (like the beanie in my pic above) make sure you don't right-click there. You should see a pie menu pop-up in front of your avatar.

Move your cursor over the pie-menu where it says "Edit Appearance". Left-click there. You'll see another window pop-up and your avatar will spin around a little. This is the Edit Appearance menu.

Here you can change just about everything about your shape. See the blue buttons just to the left of the thumbnail pictures of your avatar? These are all the different parts of your body shape you can modify. Underneath each thumbnail is a slider bar, which lets you modify different parameters for that body part. Play with these, and with the different body parts, and experiment. Your avatar will change immediately to show what these sliders do. Try to make small adjustments. Moving the slider bar all the way to zero or 100 can often result in a bizarre appearance. But maybe you want a bizarre appearance :) . Anyway, when you are happy with your changes, click on the "Save As" button at the bottom of the window, and name the shape something you'll remember. By the way, I took some of these pics at different tomes (cause I forgot to when I was originally modifying my shape) so I'm wearing different hair in some of them. Sorry about that. When I was finished, I looked like this.

If you like this shape, and are too lazy to go through all these steps, I've made it available as a freebie at my not-so-evil twin Salina's Tattoo shop, Purple Monkey Tattoo. Yes, I opened a store on my not-so-free Second Life persona, Salina. I'll blog on that later :)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Free Second Life

I first joined Second Life in December 2005. At the time, I couldn't manage my first life, much less take on a second one. I think I logged in only a few times and barely figured out how to move around. Almost a year later I had gotten my real life somewhat in order, and a good friend of mine talked me into giving Second Life another chance. It was because of her that I had signed up originally, and by now she was practically addicted. I couldn't remember my password or anything, so I just created a new account. For some reason, though, I just still couldn't really get into it. By January of 2007, though, I was honestly starting to feel a little left out of an important part of my friend's life. Every time we got together, she'd talk about her SL friends as if I knew them, almost forgetting that I had no idea who she was talking about. Ok, I'll admit it. I was feeling a little jealous :) . Finally, after I discovered that a couple of other friends of ours were also really into Second Life, I decided I needed to give it another chance. I'm really glad I did, because I've found it gives me a creative outlet I've never really had. It's also given me an excuse to learn some really cool software like the Gimp and Blender, and a reason to start a blog.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that I realized the other day that I would do things a lot different if I were starting Second Life now, knowing what I know. I could have saved a few dollars. Quite a few dollars, honestly. Unfortunately, I've already spent that money and I can't get it back. What I can do, however, is help other people avoid some of my mistakes.

So I've decided to try a little experiment. I'm calling it "Free Second Life". I want to see how good of an experience someone can have in Second Life without spending a single penny of real money! Yesterday, I created a new alt account. I did this so that I can make this experiment as realistic as possible. I wanted to start fresh with just the newbie inventory that Linden Labs gives you when you sign up. I'm going to post my progress here, ending with my Linden balance at the end of each day that I post. I do plan on earning some Lindens. You would be extremely limited in hat you could do without them. The rules for this experiment are:

1. I can't purchase any Lindens. I can set up a credit card so that I have payment info on file, but I can't buy any Lindens.
2. I can't transfer any Lindens from any of my other accounts to this one. I'm not giving up my other SL accounts, and I can still spend real money on them. But none of that money can end up in the hands of my Free Second Life account.
3. No begging for Lindens. I suppose this is a valid way to get a few Lindens, but I just can't do it. I've had complete strangers ask me for Lindens before, and it annoys the crap out of me.
4. No accepting of gifts of Lindens from friends of my other alts. I just think that would be cheating.
5. No accepting of of Lindens gifts from people who read this blog.
6. Gifts of clothes, objects, other items, and Lindens freely given to me in world by people in was that don't violate riles 3, 4, or 5 will be accepted. I think this is realistic. I've had people give me gifts before for various reasons, and I don't see a problem with that as long as I'm not going around begging for gifts or Lindens.

I think those rules are enough.

So, I created a new account. My Free Second Life name is Elsbeth McMahon. I wanted Elizabeth, but that name wasn't available with any of the current last names. I chose McMahon because it was the closest thing to my RL last name, McGough. Ok, maybe not that close. But they're both Irish.

I went through Orientation Island like all other newbies. I won't go into details of that here. I think the Orientation Island process is pretty good. The instructions they provide are fairly easy to follow. Once I finished that and got to the mainland, I tried to remember what it was like to be a newbie. To be honest, that wasn't as easy as you'd think. It's very hard to pretend you don't know what you know. At least it was for me. Maybe that's why I haven't been able to get into doing any role playing :) .

I decided the first thing I wanted to do was not look so much like a newbie. I looked pretty awful compared to the beautiful avatars you see on the Second Life home page. To get started, I consulted an expert. Natalia Zelmanov has an excellent guide for newbies on her blog. Following her suggestion, I first went to New Citizens Inc. On her blog, it's called New Citizens Plaza, but they've changed the name since she wrote her guide. When I got there, it was very crowded and extremely laggy. This is, unfortunately, not uncommon for some of the mainland sims. If you are new (or even if you aren't) and find yourself somewhere where everything is taking a long time to rez into view, and you can barely move, try not to get frustrated. Each sim (also known as a region) on the mainland is an area of 65,536 square meters and is hosted on it's own server. Some servers are faster than others, and each can only handle a certain number of people in it at the same time. I think the number is 40. Anyway, crowded sims mean a full server. And this means slow. You have two choices. Be patient and accept that it's going to be slow, or go somewhere else. I have very little patience. I opted to go somewhere else.

I went to Free Dove. I so wish I had known about this place when I really was a newbie. The place is loaded with free clothes, shoes, hair, skins, and a lot of other stuff. It was very crowded, but not laggy. I guess it's on a faster server, I don't know. Anyway, I picked up almost everything there for the taking. A couple of the skins there are actually quite nice. And I was able to find a nice, normal looking casual outfit that didn't make it overly obvious that I was a newbie. I didn't really like any of the hair I got there, though.

Oh, another thing. I think there were some shapes there, but you don't really even need a freebie shape. All of the shapes you can buy (or pick up for free) are created using the slider bars under the Edit Appearance menus. You hopefully remember how to change those from learning about it in Orientation Island. I was able to use these to make my own shape that I think looks quite nice fairly easily. I may post a detailed blog about that tomorrow.

That was pretty much it for day one of Free Second Life for Elsbeth McMahon. My Linden balance at the end of the day was zero.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Making a Simple Plant

Plants are everywhere in Second Life, from the free Linden made plants everyone can place to the beautiful creations in Svarga. The complex plant life in Svarga takes some serious building skills, but it's not very difficult to make a simple, texture based plant. Done well, these can look very realistic, especially at a distance. Done poorly, they stick out like a sore green thumb. I have seen a surprising number that were done poorly, including some you have to spend your hard earned Lindens to buy. Look at the picture below. Can you tell the difference between these two roses?

Now, I didn't spend a tremendous amount of time on either of these, so neither looks all that impressive. But this is just a tutorial, and I wanted to illustrate a couple of common pitfalls. Both of these roses were made starting from the same image. The rose on the left has two problems. First, notice the whitish, translucent haze around the edges. These are the edges of the prims onto which I mapped the image of the rose. These hazy edges don't appear on the rose on the right. Second, and this is kind of hard to see here, but the is a fine white line outlining the leaves, stem, and petals of the rose on the left. Again, they don't appear on the rose on the right. This tutorial will explain what caused these problems and how to avoid them using the GIMP.

Here's the image I started with. This works best if you start with a picture of a plant on a white background. If a part of the plant has white in it, such as the flower petals,you're going to have to modify this technique a little. Try using the Magic Wand selection tool instead of the Color Selection tool as I'm about to do.

First, right click on the layer in the Layers window and select "Add Alpha Channel". Next, click on the "Select Regions by Color" button in the Gimp toolbox. For the image I used, I got the best result by setting the threshold at 20. Now, click anywhere on the white background part of the image. This will select every part of the image that has a color value within 20 percent of the color value of the pixel you clicked. Next, press Ctrl-k to clear (delete) the selection. Poof! All the white background disappears leaving only the rose against the checkerboard. Remember from the tattoo tutorial that the checkerboard is how the Gimp represents transparency.

However, we now have a problem. Again this is hard to see in the picture above, but look what we see if we zoom in.

See that white line around the rose petals? This is the white line I mentioned earlier that we could see in the final rose in Second Life. I'm not an expert on graphics, but I assume this is caused because the pixels right along the border between the rose and the white background aren't within 20 percent of the color value of the background. So they didn't get selected when we deleted the background. The good news is we can easily fix this! There are several ways to do this, but here's what has worked best for me. Undo every step back to the part where the white background is selected, but not yet deleted. Now, from the Select menu, click Grow Selection. Make sure it says 1 pixel in the window that pops up, and click on OK. This may be obvious, but this expands the selection by exactly one pixel.

Now, delete the selection as before by pressing Ctrl-k. Now zoom in and you should see this.

Yay! No white line. Save the image as a Targa file. If you don't remember how to do this, go back to the tattoo tutorial.

Start Second Life and upload the image. For the rest of this, I'm going to assume you know the basics of making prims and applying textures in Second Life. If you don't, go through the basic building tutorials at the Ivory Tower of Primitives, or check out the tutorials on Natalia Zelmanov's blog. Make sure you're somewhere you're allowed to build, and rez a cube. Apply the image of the rose (or whatever plant you uploaded) to the front and back faces of the cube.

Now, we want the other four faces of the cube (don't forget the bottom) to be transparent. You could just apply the blank texture to these faces, and then use the transparency slider in the texture tab. However, this will introduce the first problem I mentioned with the rose on the left way back at the start of the tutorial, the white hazy edge outlining the cube itself. The reason for this is that the transparency slider only goes up to 90%. You can't make it completely transparent. Thus, the white haze. This has to be the most common mistake I've seen with plants in Second Life. Again, this has an easy fix.

This doesn't apply just to making plants If you're going to build very much of anything in Second Life, sooner or later you're going to need to make the entire face of a prim 100% transparent. To do this, you need a fully transparent texture. You could make your own using the Gimp. In fact, you can probably figure that one out on your own, but it will cost you 10L to upload. Why pay that to upload nothing . . . literally. Go back over to Natalia's blog. She has a fully transparent texture as a freebie in her store in Second Life. Once you have the fully transparent texture, apply it just like you would any texture to the other four faces of your cube. Then edit the size of the cube to make it as thin as you can. Voila! You have made a plant. Oh, one other thing you should do is copy this cube, put it in the same X and Y location as the first cube, rotate it 90°, and link the two cubes together. This way, you can see the plant from any angle. Happy planting!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Who Am I?

I just realized I haven't mentioned my SL name here yet. Dani is my name in RL, but in SL I have a different name. I don't know why. I actually have a couple of alts, but I spend most of my time in SL as Sera Spitteler. And Sera's less than evil twin is Salina Taurog. Salina is the pale one who likes purple. They are both me, and we are all very happy right now living inside one RL body, and several SL avatars. :)